How true the old adage “oh how time flies!” When it comes to how your estate is set up, take note! With a plethora of cases where estate documents were “yellowing” with time, it becomes apparent that this is one pitfall that needs to be addressed. When estate documents are years old, it’s time to review them for inaccuracies. Yes, review and update are my wise words today. In a couple of cases I am working on now, old estate documents are the cause of missteps in the estate settlement. Not only had assets changed hands prior to death, the wills that were drawn up recently were incorrect in their assumption of property ownership and there were no reviews for accuracy of a trust that was set up over 20 years ago. The attorneys make mistakes and I am seeing that more and more. Estate documents are being drawn up based on assumptions or beliefs by their clients. Clients are relying on their attorneys to guide them through the process with careful attention to detail. Take note that not all attorneys put their magnifying glasses on to capture accurate details. I liken this to working with doctors on your health issues. You have to be your own advocate and question, check and recheck your professional’s work. A lot of times, critical details are not disclosed by the client strictly due to the client not realizing the information is critical. So, here are a few tips to avoid the pitfalls of old estate documents you have in your files.
1. If you have property, check and double-check:
- Who is the legal owner of the property? Is it in a trust? Is it co-owned by a trust and an individual?
- How does the ownership affect the trust or will?
- Is there a history to the property that you need to access such as easement agreements? Were they completed correctly?
2. Does the attorney really know who’s who in the family? Do you have some “blended” siblings that will affect the distribution of assets? Clearly define who your family members are and their relationships and status when you are drawing up a will. Family relationships change over time, so review your estate documents with critical eyes regularly.
3. If relationships among family members are strained, make sure wills and trusts are not creating bad working situation among heirs that leave them to “iron out the details on their own.” It can be costly and emotionally distressing to all involved when they have to work out the future of an asset and they have conflicting opinions and needs.
4. If you have a deceased “heir”, does the will accurately reflect how you want their share to be distributed? To their kids? To the other siblings?
Things definitely change over time. Clauses in wills that need to be included, family dynamics, family members, relationships, assets and intent are some of the most common reasons to review and update your estate documents. Question everything! For it is a given that everything changes. Proactive planners leave a better legacy by far! So go dust off your old estate documents, review them and see if they are reflective of reality. I think you might be surprised!